Pat and Theresa Doolan of Riva, Md., could spend a sizable chunk of their income feeding their five children three of them teenagers. If the Doolans were a typical American family, their monthly food costs would be more than $1,034, with almost 40 percent of that figure applying to food eaten away from home, says a U.S. Department of Labor survey.
But Theresa Doolan is a frugal shopper. She spends about half that $570 a month to feed her family of seven. And her methods aren’t at all radical. I have food in my house, she says.
A well-stocked pantry is a plus in trimming food costs, she says, because it cuts down on eating out and last-minute trips to the grocery store. Fewer trips to the store mean fewer impulse buys. Limit supermarket visits to one a week.
To begin stocking your pantry and freezer, record your typical menus and break down the ingredients into a perpetual shopping list. Then wait for items to go on sale and stock up on them as your budget allows.
Wait to buy grocery items until they hit their lowest sale price. Keep track of sale prices by regularly looking through store sale flyers and recording the prices. After a couple of months, you’ll easily be able to spot the target sale price.
Plan ahead, because you’ll occasionally be too rushed or too tired to cook. Double or triple recipes and freeze the dishes. Pre-assemble ingredients or meal components and freeze them. By taking a few extra minutes in the kitchen, you can save hours later. You’ll save money, too, by staying home for dinner. The Doolans, for instance, rarely eat out, spending only about $30 of their monthly food budget on food prepared away from home.
Heather Woodfin of Arnold, Md., buys meat at target sale prices, cooks it ahead of time, and freezes it in meal-size portions. She finds it helps her to resist the urge to splurge on expensive carryout food.
I love ribs, but they take forever to cook. It can take a good 45 to 60 minutes on the grill. I can pull it out of the freezer in the morning, and in the amount of time it takes me to reheat it at dinner time, I can add a salad or vegetable.
The extra time spent in the kitchen is worth it, Woodfin says. With a minimal amount of preparation, you can have restaurant quality food that doesn’t cost a lot of money.